Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Sounding the Hyperlink: Skewed Remote Musical Performance and the Virtual Subject

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Sounding the Hyperlink: Skewed Remote Musical Performance and the Virtual Subject

Article excerpt

This essay contributes to the decentring of vision that has been the project of much recent scholarship. Accepting derrida's argument in Of Grammatology that the sound of the voice is not a sounding of presence, this essay nonetheless argues that sound itself remains active as the invisible ground that figures "sounds." Sound is thus presented here as a "field-mosaic" in Marshall McLuhan's sense, indicating a relational ontology wherein this relationality is taken as pre-existent to the terms related. Sound in the following essay thus represents an attempt to grasp the "fieldness" of this ontology precisely by refusing to give sonic instantiations ("sounds") primary status, instead thinking them in the technological terms of McLuhan's tetrad. However, if sound is thus understood (in the technological sense) as an extension of the human, and the "fieldness" of sound prevents us from registering the term "human" as prior to its relational status, then sound as it is here mobilized suggests an understanding of human subjectivity as itself decentred, such that subjectivity is now understood as a technology, a notion that has been variously discussed under the term of "posthuman." Ultimately, then, this essay explores sound's relation to this new subjectivity through an analysis of a practice called Skewed Remote Musical Performance (SRMP). Resulting from this exploration is the suggestion that posthuman subjectivity has always been everywhere present as sound itself; that is, the "zero-level" of the technology of subjectivity--the zero-level of the posthuman subject--is the field-mosaic that is sound.

Accomplished through the software SuperCollider, SRMP consists of two remotely situated musical performers who collaborate in real time via a computer network. (1) The key parameter of SRMP, though, is that the sounds heard in each of the two locations must be markedly different from one another, and must differ such that the specificity of the differences is not anticipatable or captured. For example, in the initial performance, which took place simultaneously in San Diego, California, and Victoria, British Columbia, each SRMP performer could articulate any of an array of sound files using a musical keyboard interface that allowed the performers to select the sample, select an effect chosen from a bank of signal processors, select the parameters of the effect, and indicate the articulation's duration or rhythm. In order to introduce a significant difference between what was heard at the two locations, the computer randomly turned on and off a skewing mechanism that altered which sound file was played at the remote location, but did not alter the effect applied to the sample locally (see Fig. 1). Importantly, this skewing happens between the two locations, the sound is never skewed locally, and the local performer never knows if or in what specific way the sound is skewed. To further emphasize this skewing, SRMP is typically presented as structured improvisation, with the specific structural parameters varied from performance to performance.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

In writing a description of SRMP here, there is the expectation that the reader will try to imagine being present at a performance; that is, the description (as a form) is an attempt to make proximate the described event. In this case, the impossibility of witnessing both the local and remote components of a performance of SRMP signals what SRMP performs: the shift to sound from the visual. This is to say that the question of presence/absence (i.e., to ask, What would it be like to be present? or even, What is SRMP?) does not capture the specific dynamic that SRMP puts into play, because it does not account for the proliferation performed by the remote skewing that is salient to it. (2) In the context of numerous claims that Western metaphysics is predicated on locating "the subject of speech in the same ontological space as the speaking subject" (Silverman 43), the implications of this "failure to account" are profound. …

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